What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.
Even knowing how infrequently police officers are held accountable for shooting unarmed black people, I’m stunned two outside reviews determined it was “reasonable” for a Cleveland police officer to use deadly force against twelve-year-old Tamir Rice last year. You don’t have to study that case thoroughly to recognize that “officers rushed Tamir and shot him immediately without assessing the situation in the least.” Police fired twice at short range within seconds, then didn’t offer first aid to the boy who had been holding a pellet gun.
The Washington Post maintains the most complete database on fatal shootings by on-duty police officers, tracking such cases more thoroughly than the federal government. This week Kimberly Kindy published an outstanding investigative report for the Post about how often police departments refuse to release videos of fatal incidents, even though “officers investigated in fatal shootings are routinely given access to body camera footage.” I’ve posted excerpts below, but you should click through to read the whole article.
Kindy discussed at length the accidental shooting of Autumn Steele by a Burlington, Iowa police officer in January of this year, and the fight to gain access to video of the tragedy. Kindy found that of 760 fatal shootings by police across the country so far in 2015, 49 incidents were “captured by body camera,” but “Just 21 of those videos – less than half – have been publicly released. And in several of those cases, the footage, as in Burlington, was severely cut or otherwise edited.” State officials released only a 12-second excerpt from the body cam video of the Steele shooting. I’ve also posted below clips containing background on Steele’s death and her family’s battle with authorities trying to keep relevant information secret.
Public pressure to equip more on-duty police officers with body cams has mounted over the past year, but such programs incur much greater costs than simply purchasing the cameras, Brian Bakst and Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press in February. Departments must pay ongoing software and data storage fees.
“Everybody is screaming, ‘We need body cameras.’ But nobody is saying, where is the money coming from? What are you going to do with all the data? Who is going to manage it?” said Sgt. Jason Halifax of the Des Moines Police Department, which is struggling to identify a funding source for $300,000 to start a program. “Are we going to cut personnel? Are we going to increase taxes?”
One of the most shocking Iowa news stories I read this week appeared on the Ottumwa Evening Post website October 8. Pam Credille recounted how one night in June, a misread license plate led to a police pursuit that “should have never happened” under the Fairfield Police Department’s policy. Officers continued to pursue the car far beyond city limits (again violating department policy), and one officer was tempted to try to “box in” the fleeing vehicle (which would have been another violation). After the car spun into a ditch, Fairfield police officers ran toward it and fired several shots each. It’s just dumb luck neither of the unarmed teenagers inside were injured or killed. Credille’s story contains eight YouTube videos taken from police car dashboard camera footage before, during, and after the shooting incident. The officers involved were not disciplined; Fairfield Police Chief Dave Thomas told Credille, “I believe they responded appropriately and were safe and did a good job in defending themselves.” From what?
The Ottumwa Evening Post report reminded me of Tyler Comstock’s shooting death at the hands of an Ames police officer in November 2013. But in that incident, Comstock’s father initiated the police pursuit of his son by reporting his truck stolen after the 19-year-old took it without permission. As in the case of Autumn Steele, the county attorney determined the officer’s actions to be justified. Comstock’s family has since filed a wrongful death claim. UPDATE: Bleeding Heartland user rockm noted in the comments that the city of Ames settled with Comstock’s family “to avoid litigation.”